Everything in life is about balance, and our immune system is no exception. Inflammatory responses initiated by the immune system are helpful when they promote a healing response in instances such as a small cut or injury. But too much inflammation (an over-response by the immune system) can wreak havoc in the body, particularly when it involves the nervous system. Neuroinflammation occurs when there is inflammation in the nervous system, notably in the brain and spinal cord. Conditions that are associated with neuroinflammation include traumatic brain injury (concussions), Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and depression.
Clinical depression, we know, is a multi-factorial condition. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that hyper-activation of the immune system resulting in neuroinflammation is one of the factors contributing to the pathology of major depressive disorder (1). Neuroinflammation occurs in response to various threats on the immune system.
What causes Neuroinflammation:
Autoimmunity: Also known as an inappropriate immune response. This means the immune system decides to attack parts of the body that it shouldn’t.
Lifestyle factors: Excess weight gain can increase levels of inflammation in the body. Similarly, too much stress does the same thing.
Digestive conditions: In a previous article, I talked about the effect of the gut-brain axis and how inflammation within the digestive system can lead to inflammation in the nervous system.
Infection: Viruses contribute to increased immune system activity resulting in inflammation.
Head trauma: Concussions are like bruises of the brain and require the immune system for healing, but can also result in chronic inflammation.
Addressing inflammation in the body is a promising form of treatment for clinical depression. The use of powerful anti-inflammatory herbs to improve depressive symptoms further supports the idea that inflammation plays a significant role in depression.
TURMERIC is one of these herbs that has been well-studied in relation to depression. The active component of turmeric, curcumin, has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in patients with major depression (2, 3). Curcumin is most effective for depression when taken for a 6-week period, and shows greatest efficacy in middle aged patients (2). In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, curcumin has the ability to modulate neurotransmitter levels in the brain including serotonin and dopamine (4).
The most common antidepressant medications also act on serotonin levels in the body, but lack the ability to address the problem of neuroinflammation. However, many people that struggle with depression find benefit in taking antidepressant medications, but not without the price of debilitating side effects such as troubles sleeping, diarrhea, nervousness, weight gain, and sexual dysfunction. 50% of people discontinue antidepressant treatment due to side effects alone (2). One of the advantages of treatment with curcumin is the lack of side effects since it is a relatively safe herb.
More studies are needed to determine if curcumin can be used in addition to existing antidepressant treatment, or if it is most useful when administered alone. In the mean time, it appears to be a safe and effective way to address the neuroinflammation present in clinical depression.
Herbal medicines such as curcumin are just one way that naturopathic medicine can assist in the treatment of mood disorders like depression. As a naturopath, I treat the WHY to depression such as neuroinflammation, but I also look at hormonal imbalances, digestive concerns, and more. To figure out your WHY, come see me at Juniper Family Health (778-265-8340).
1. Khairova, R., Machado-Vieira, R., Du, J., Manji, H. (2009). A potential role of pro-inflammatory cytokines in regulating synaptic plasticity in major depressive disorder. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 12(4), 561-578.
2. Al-Karawj, D., Mamoori, D., Tayyar, Y. (2016). The role of curcumin administration in patients with major depressive disorder: mini meta-analysis of clinical trials. Phytotherapy Research, 30, 175-183.
3. Ng, Q., Koh, S., Chan, H., Ho, C. (2017). Clinical use of curcumin in depression: a meta-analysis. Journal of American Medical Directors Association, 18(6), 503-508.
4. Kulkarni, S., Dhir, A., Akula, K. (2009). Potentials of curcumin as an antidepressant. The Scientific World Journal, 9, 1233-1241.